One step you can take to improve your mood is to reduce stress. Most people with borderline personality disorder (BPD) will tell you that their emotional instability symptoms, those infamous mood shifts associated with BPD, are much worse during times of stress. Everyone experiences some inevitable stressors in their life, but for people with BPD, too much stress can feel completely overwhelming.
Some stress we have no control over. However, there are certain stressors in our lives that are controllable, and with some planning we can keep keep these stressors at bay. Here are some tips for reducing controllable stressors:
Reduce Stress In Your Schedule
One major way to reduce stress is to organize your schedule. Many of us live from day-to-day, constantly trying to stay on top of our obligations, make it to appointments on time, and remember to run errands. If you take a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants approach to scheduling, this quickly becomes very chaotic.
An alternative is to get organized with your schedule. You don’t need fancy technology or an expensive planner to do this; just a simple daily calendar that you can keep in your pocket will do. At least once a week, write down all of the appointments you have scheduled or deadlines you face. Then, jot down tasks you’d like to complete for each day. Carry the calendar with you, so you can write down new tasks or obligations as they come up. Each morning, review the day and make sure you know what to expect.
Stress Reduction at Home
We sometimes barely notice daily hassles at home because these small hassles often seem like “no big deal.” But the more small hassles you experience, the more they add up and contribute to your stress level. Getting organized and planning more of your home life can make things run more smoothly.
One step you can take is to clean and organize your living space. Depending on the current state of your space, this can be a small or very big task. If your space is in a total disarray, take it slowly, and vow to organize just one area a week. Buy inexpensive bins to hold items that are scattered around your home. Develop a system to make sure that your mail doesn’t pile up.
See if there are ways that you can simplify routine tasks that you have to do over and over again. For example, make meal lists for the week so that you don’t find yourself scouring the fridge to throw something together to eat at night. Or make a space for an extra waste basket right near your entryway so that junk mail doesn’t make it farther into your home.
Reduce Stress By Saying “No”
A final way to reduce your stress is by practicing your assertiveness skills and saying “no” more often. If you have BPD, you may notice that you go through periods of really struggling to say “no” to people sometimes followed by a building up of tension and period of saying “no” in very strong ways (e.g., screaming and yelling it at the top of your lungs.) People with BPD are prone to get stuck in non-assertive communication traps that promote this back-and-forth cycle.
When you are saying “yes” to every request, you are setting yourself up for resentment, frustration, and more stress. Practice saying “no” to small requests. For example, if someone asks you to run an errand for them, try saying, “I’m so sorry; I am just swamped right now. I’ll have to pass this time.” This goes for social obligations that you’d rather not fulfill, meetings, etc. Don’t say “no” to everything (this can be just as unhealthy as saying “yes” to everything), but practice cutting out a few small hassles from your life. The practice will come in handy when bigger stressors come up.
Remember – Not All Stress Is Bad
A final and important point is that not all stress is bad. In fact, we need some stress in our lives to keep us happy and engaged. So don’t let this advice push you too far to the opposite extreme -- don’t attempt to reduce stress to the point of isolation and boredom. Just practice reducing daily hassles and finding more balance.
Elliott CH, Smith LL, Borderline Personality Disorder for Dummies, Hoboken, NJ, Wiley, 2009.
Linehan MM. Skills Training Manual for Treating Borderline Personality Disorder. New York: Guilford, 1993.